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Like renting Redbox movies? LightHouse is seeking blind California residents for paid usability study

In 2014, the LightHouse reached a settlement with Redbox Automated Retail LLC, which required Redbox to improve accessibility of their movie rental kiosks in California.  As a result of the lawsuit, Redbox agreed to make its approximately 3,600 movie and video game rental kiosks accessible to blind users. You can now browse, select and return movies with headphones and a text-to-speech interface controlled via touchpad, thanks to careful collaboration between LightHouse and Redbox. Now, Redbox wants to make sure its accessibility measures are working to meet the needs of its blind users. And that’s where you come in.

Help the LightHouse as we test to ensure accessibility of Redbox movie rental kiosks! Sign up to become a tester and try out Redbox’s new platform for accessibility. We have completed the first two rounds of tests and need additional participants for our final study.

We are seeking new participants only. No repeat participants please.

You’ll be asked to test the following functions to determine effectiveness for blind users:

  • Accessing information with the user interface touch pad
  • Browsing through options and locating your desired movie
  • Renting a movie
  • Returning a movie

Gratuity

  • Participants will receive a $150 Visa gift card or Amazon electronic gift card upon completion of the post study survey

What is required

  • Two visits to a Redbox kiosk convenient to your location. Redbox Kiosks are located outside and inside supermarkets and retail centers throughout CA and can be found via www.redbox.com
  • Headphones to hear the speech output prompts
  • Debit or credit card to pay for the movie rental
  • Provide your transportation to and from the kiosk location
  • Two visits are needed to complete the study, one visit to rent the movie and one visit to return the movie.
  • Allow approximately 20 minutes per visit to navigate the interface, to browse, rent and/or return the movie
  • Please be aware that other customers may wish to use the kiosk during the study
  • After each visit, you must complete a survey with your findings

Sign up to become a tester by emailing redbox@lighthouse-sf.org by July 26. The study period ends August 3. Please note that you are responsible for your transportation to and from Redbox kiosks and incur the normal risks associated with your travel.

Meet Conchita Hernández, teaching blindness across the border with the Holman Prize

Holman Prize Logo

Since 2017, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired has presented the Holman Prize, which funds the ambitions of three blind individuals each year. One of the 2018 prizewinners is Conchita Hernández, from Washington, D.C., USA. Conchita will convene the first-ever blind-led conference in Mexico devoted to bringing masses ofblind people, their families and mentors together in Guadalajara to understand there is an alternative to the traditional expectation of dependence and poverty.

Last year Conchita Hernández hosted a blindness workshop in the border town of McAllen, Texas. She wasn’t sure how many people would show up. McAllen sits on the US border with Mexico, a city surrounded on all sides by government checkpoints – a civic purgatory for undocumented immigrants who can’t move back or forward. It wasn’t clear how many blind students there were in McAllen, but, when a quality service is offered, word spreads. Sixteen families showed up, each united by the same pursuits: healthier options, better information, and a better life for their blind children.

Life is not perfect for blind children in South Texas, and many blind children still do not qualify for services in the American system because of their immigration status. The prospects in Mexico, however, are worse. Blindness alone is not a qualifier for asylum, and so many families with blind children attempt to cross the border on their own. One case, in Nogales, AZ in April, saw a blind 6-year-old and her 4-year-old brother taken from their mother while she was held indefinitely.

Herself a child of immigrant parents who brought her to America at age 4, along with an older brother who is also legally blind, Conchita didn’t live the same struggle as if she had stayed in her birthplace, the Mexico City exurb of Jocotitlán. Instead, she was raised in California, learned English, made friends, went to college. By age 30, she had lived in the Bay Area, New Jersey, Nebraska, Louisiana, and ultimately settled in Washington, D.C. to pursue a doctorate and a career as an educator.

This might not have been possible had she stayed in Mexico, a country where blind people are vastly unemployed and rarely live independently. Here, blind people mostly sell government-apportioned lottery tickets and snacks on street corners and metro stations, and no education is promised. Schools for blind students are private, meaning they cost a lot of money. When they can’t afford tuition, Conchita says, families must beg public schools to accept their visually impaired children, and it doesn’t always work. “There is no ADA or IDA,” she said over the phone from DC last week. “So, a public school can just tell them, no, we don’t know how to serve you.” Despite the fact that Mexico has recently adopted some new rules and regulations regarding disability, they are little regarded or enforced.

This is why Conchita started Mentoring Engaging and Teaching All Students (METAS), a US-based nonprofit run by similarly passionate, blind, first-generation millenials who have made it their mission to empower Latin America with consistent, quality information about blindness. In multiple trips to the country, Conchita found that word spreads quickly – once families realize there are solutions they can afford. That’s the same reason that, last year when they started holding workshops on the Texas side of the border, people really showed up.

The Holman Prize will fund Conchita to take these workshops to the next level – this time, in Guadalajara, Jalisco State, a region with 8 million people and an estimated 40,000 blind residents, where she knows the people and the immense need. A center for blindness schools, Jalisco State has been called the Mexican Silicon Valley. With funding to provide staffing, lodging and scholarships, the “Changing Lives” conference (Cambiando Vidas) will be able to serve Mexican families from all over the country. “We’ll be bringing the people from Mexico together to have them access the resources and information that already exist but are unknown,” she says. “We’re going to have workshops on O&M, braille and daily living, so that they can come together in one place, learn and realize they’re not alone.”

“There really hasn’t been a blindness-focused conference run by blind people,” she says. “What’s different about this conference is that it won’t just be professionals talking at people. We’ll be having breakout sessions, as well as providing training. We’re also going to have an exhibitor hall, where people can find out about resources that are available to them in their areas.”

In a place where blind people are openly considered to be a burden, the idea behind Cambiando Vidas strikes at a deeper insight: you can have the best education in the world, but if your family doesn’t believe in your capability, you are at a great disadvantage. For this reason, it’s equally important to educate parents and relatives about what their blind children can achieve. “We can teach skills, we can teach you to use a cane,” she says, “but if we don’t teach them empowerment, it doesn’t mean much.”

For her Holman Prize project, Conchita plans to bring Cambiando Vidas to Guadalajara in July 2019. “The goal is that this will serve as the beginning of people coming together and advocating for themselves and advocating through the government as well,” she says. “We want better education for our children. In the short term, it’s just about them being able to find resources amongst each other so that what is possible for a blind person can shift, and so that the people who are begging can find something else.”

Video: Watch Conchita Hernández talk about “coming out” as blind, for Allure.

Cambiando Vidas is just a small piece of Conchita’s much greater ambition, but it’s a project where the Holman Prize will go a long way. On this, Conchita is clear: “I don’t think people should have to cross the border to access these services, but more importantly I don’t think that they should have to cross the border to lead a dignified life. Wherever you’re born you should have the same opportunities as everyone else.”

“The LightHouse believes that all blind people, whatever their nation of origin, should have access to modern thinking and tools to enable them to live in an accomplished manner,” says Bryan Bashin, CEO of the San Francisco-based organization. “Our struggles and accomplishments are the same in whatever country we live, and it gives the LightHouse great pleasure to help bring these options to blind people around the world.”

Get to know the other two prizewinners, Stacy Cervenka and Red Szell.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.

Support The Holman Prize

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2019 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.

Meet Red Szell, braving Scotland’s most extreme triathlon with the Holman Prize

Holman Prize LogoSince 2017, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired has presented the Holman Prize, which funds the ambitions of three blind individuals. One of the 2018 prizewinners is Red Szell, from London, United Kingdom. With the Holman Prize, Red will train for an extreme triathlon to include a 10-mile off-road tandem ride, an ocean swim and a 200-foot climb up one of Scotland’s most dramatic oceanic rock formations, Am Buachaille. 

It was 2013, and at 46 years old, Red Szell was on top of the world. Or it must have felt that way – pulling himself up the last craggy expanses of rock to become the first blind person to climb the Old Man of Hoy, a narrow, jutting 449-foot sea stack off the north coast of Scotland. About 10 meters from the top, he reached a plateau – a quiet place just below the summit where the layers of red sandstone part just enough to expose a wide swath of the North Sea. As the sun shone in and the wind whipped his face, that’s when Red had an epiphany: “I realized I never would have done this if I wasn’t blind.”

Red wasn’t always blind, but he was always a climber. Raised in rural Southeast England, Red led the childhood one would imagine in the idyllic British countryside – climbing trees, riding bikes, hoofing it to the nearest village a mile away and always looking out for his siblings, six and seven years younger than him. At the age of 12, Red saw a TV interview with Chris Bonington, the beloved mountaineer, telling the tale of his climb to the top of the Old Man of Hoy. “It just clicked,” says Red. “I’d always loved climbing; but I knew right there that my life just wouldn’t be complete until I had climbed one of these sea stacks.”

Soon, Red was spending his teenage summers climbing in the Welsh mountains with the army cadets, learning from some of the best climbing instructors on offer. He was accepted into Cambridge University and his dreams danced before him. Then, at age 20, something odd happened. Strolling down the street with his parents one afternoon, Red ran smack dab into a pole. “Once I’d convinced my parents I wasn’t on drugs,” he jokes, “I went to the doctor.” The doctor looked at his eyes and said he had a progressive condition with no cure. He would become blind and there was no way to stop it.

At first, Red tried denial. He kept climbing. On the weekends, he and his college buddies would continue what Red calls the “rich tradition” of climbing the old college buildings on the historic, flat old Cambridge campus, celebrating in the way that college students do when they reached the top. One night shortly after his diagnosis, descending after one such illicit climb (and likely relying on his undependable vision for guidance), he made an error. Red lost his footing and plummeted 20 meters down the Fitzwilliam Museum’s concrete facade. That likely would be the end of the story, had he not landed in a fortuitously-situated Rhododendron bush.

“At that point I thought, this is just stupid. I’m either gonna kill myself or just stop.” So he hung up his harness and gave up hopes of being a climber. He had no idea that blind people had developed non-visual ways of scaling some of the world’s most challenging peaks.

Toppling his fear of blindness, though, took many more years. “I calmed down a bit,” he says, “but I didn’t come to terms with it. I was angry. I worked a bit harder, focused on my English degree, but really, I went into a sulk for about 20 years.”

More than two decades later, Red had trained to use a cane, read non-visually, cook, clean, and, for the most part, life life as a well-adjusted blind person. An accomplished journalist, author and eventually a father of two, Red raised two children simultaneously while he learned to work with his ever-changing vision – an accomplishment some might consider greater than climbing a mountain. He was still nagged, though, by his continuing passion for stretching his body, summiting real peaks and thus showing respect and care for his physicality.

In 2009, for his daughter’s ninth birthday party, he found himself at an indoor climbing gym. With just enough vision to ogle the courses set out on the multi-tiered, multi-colored walls, Red was transfixed. An instructor, noticing his interest, offered to belay him, if he wanted to try. And like that, Red was back in the harness. To his surprise, he found, like other elements of life – blindness was not the obstacle he imagined it to be. With his return to climbing, so returned the spirit of that 12-year-old mountaineer.

Four years of rigorous training later, Red became the first blind man to summit the Old Man of Hoy. Realizing that it was his blindness that led him there, he said, allowed him to embrace a new identity. “Whilst I’d kind of come to terms with losing my sight, and come to terms with using a white cane to get around and be identified as a blind person, I’d never embraced it. I’d never let it be part of me, it always felt like some kind of alien in me.” But by maintaining healthy exercise routines, Red finds it much easier to see blindness as part of his core identity. “As I’ve gotten more blind, you can start to feel less equal to the world around you,” he says, “and by maintaining my core fitness and my balance through pilates, yoga and swimming, that has helped me tremendously.”

In June 2019, for his Holman Prize project Red will return to sea stack climbing – but with slightly higher stakes. His “Extreme Triathlon” includes a 10-mile ride through a notably hazardous bog-land, a 200-foot abseil followed by a swim through open ocean, and a climb up the 213-foot ocean spire called Am Buachaille. But more than just a triathlon, Red has a plan to document the whole endeavor, working closely with action-sports adventure videographer Keith Partridge to turn the project into more than just a feat of strength, but a message to other blind people not to give up their passions because of a change in vision: “The Holman Prize gives me the platform to stand up in front of the world and say: ‘This is doable.’ Don’t think that because you can’t see you can’t push life to its extremes.”

When confronted with the potential risks, Red says he doesn’t tempt fate, but is confident in his ability to train and prepare for the utmost safety. “It’s a controlled risk. I always say I’m more likely to get run over crossing a busy road in London than I am on a rock face. The thing that scares the willies out of me is walking up a crowded pavement with smartphone zombies not looking where they’re going, pushing me into traffic. That scares the heck out of me. I’m much more in control when I’m swimming and when I’m climbing.”

Red makes a good point: for most of us, the insurmountable peaks are more like finding a good job, walking with confidence, staying fit and healthy or – in his case – making the commitment to fatherhood even when it’s scary. But whatever the goal, it’s better than a the decades-long slump. “I spent some really depressing times sitting on my sofa, drinking too much beer and saying ‘life is shit’ — and I look at that as kind of wasted time now. I wish I knew what was possible back then.”

“Accelerating the self-confidence and self-respect of blind people is key to what we do every day,” said  Bryan Bashin, CEO of the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, “Exposing newly-blind people to a world of accomplishment and skills early can save years or decades spent needlessly in self-doubt.”

Get to know the other two prizewinners, Conchita Hernández and Stacy Cervenka.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.

Support The Holman Prize

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2019 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.

 

Meet Stacy Cervenka, creating an online community for blind travelers with the Holman Prize

Holman Prize LogoSince 2017, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired has presented the Holman Prize, which funds the ambitions of three blind individuals. One of the 2018 prizewinners is Stacy Cervenka, from Lincoln, NE, USA. Stacy’s Holman Prize ambition is to research, develop and launch a “blind Yelp” of sorts, called the Blind Travelers Network. Similar to TripAdvisor or Cruise Critic, the site would give blind individuals crowdsourced knowledge about the accessible places and services that they can’t currently access anywhere else. 

“If we go to a resort in Jamaica because they have scuba diving, we’re not protected by the ADA there, so what do we do if we get there and they don’t let us dive?”

These are the questions that keep Stacy Cervenka awake at night. And they’re not just anxiety dreams: they’re real questions that she confronts every time she travels.

“The ADA doesn’t cover Jamaica,” she offered, over the phone last week, “it doesn’t cover Europe or Canada. Canada is just developing it’s disability laws now. If you travel somewhere where you’re not protected, and someone tells you can’t get on the bus – you can’t get on the bus.”

Stacy, who lives with her family in Lincoln, Nebraska, is quite good at painting a mental picture: a blind family, eager to see the world, cut short by a society that doesn’t understand their needs, or worse, their capabilities. As a blind person, once you start imagining all the ways your trip could go wrong, it’s a bit of a downward spiral. But on the flip side – where does a blind person go to have the time of their life? Also a valid question.

This is why Stacy hatched a new idea to meet a need that, oddly, hasn’t been met yet: the Blind Travelers Network. Think Yelp, Trip Advisor, or Cruise Critic – but designed for the betterment of a population who wants one thing, more than anything else: information.

Stacy grew up in a place where community was everything. Raised on the suburban outskirts of Chicago, she was a blind girl, but she was also the oldest sibling in a family that trusted her implicitly.

“We were the ultimate latchkey kids,” she explains. With a father who was a harbormaster and a mother who worked nurse shifts until 11 p.m., it was common for Stacy and her little siblings to spend entire days taking care of themselves: cooking dinner, hanging out with friends, playing in the neighborhood, and only seeing their parents for a few minutes at bedtime.

These were neighborhoods with big block parties, neighbors that watched out for each other, and fire departments that would crack open hydrants on hot summer days. But despite the nostalgic memories, Stacy acknowledges that something major was missing.

“Looking back, I really wish that I had more exposure to blind kids and successful blind adults. My relationship with my family was mostly normal, we all competed in sports, did a lot of the same activities, and spent a lot of time together because our parents worked a lot – but I think I would have had a lot more confidence if I had had exposure to other blind kids and successful blind adults.”

Nonetheless, Stacy developed a passion for travel, and by the time she was a young adult, had traversed the country several times, getting to know its diverse climates, people and cultures. She found beauty and adventure in Wyoming, idyllic summer lodges in the Midwest and Florida.

One thing nagged at her all along, though, frustrating because she had no power over it. What if, on all her travels, she was missing something? Not the visual information that most sighted people would assume she desired, but rather, the accessibility that blind people so deeply deserved; the hospitality that all travelers deserve; the sheer immersive experience, regardless of the level of her sight. She wanted a way to optimize her adventures.

“When my husband and I were first dating in DC,” she remembers, “he wanted to set up a date at a horseback riding place. He set it up, paid for it, and when we go there they didn’t let us ride. We went there really excited to have a romantic date.”

There wasn’t much they could do. “They didn’t know about the law – so the law didn’t matter,” she says. “You can’t call the cops and they’ll show up and handcuff them. The only way to enforce it is to get legal advocacy, and that stinks.” Lawsuits, she says, are not the best end to a romantic first date, for anyone: “We didn’t want to have to fight the system.”

Stacy also knew a review on a mainstream website wouldn’t do her or blind travelers any good. In fact she knew: a blind person wanting to ride horses would only get shouted down: “I could have written something on Yelp or someplace, but you would just get people saying ‘they’re just worried about your safety!’”

Soon she and her husband were married, and planning a honeymoon. Again, Stacy found herself scouring travel sites, like a tortured detective, unable to find the exact clues she needed. “I learned a ton on Cruise Critic!” she insists, “but I still had a ton of blindness-specific questions. You just can’t get those answered on there.”

Two years ago, Stacy took her family to Disney World. This time, she took to Facebook, sourcing a wealth of great information from blind friends and others who knew about accessibility and also had a healthy appreciation for Disney theme parks. And yet, she knew the thread would be lost to the sands of time, couldn’t be easily archived and tagged. This was Information that other blind parents could use “about how to get around, how to manage transportation, how to navigate, how to keep track of our children at the pool,” and nit wasn’t available to those who might need it later. “I just wanted a place for us all to be able to share that.”

The Blind Travelers Network (BTN), she hopes, will provide an answer to this problem, and build a strong new community at the same time. “The goal is that blind people will come to the site and share information about places they’ve been, and ask questions about places they want to go. It’s that simple. It’s not so much about being positive or negative, it’s about being accurate.”

Much like other online communities, though, Stacy knows that she can seed some contributions here and there, but much of the work is in mobilizing the blind internet through social media, word of mouth and other savvy marketing strategies. “It’s only going to be a useful resource if lots of us write reviews. You can still get information about the goulash or the bread pudding on Yelp – BTN is meant to be a site where people can go to get information that they can’t get anywhere else.”

As a founder of the site, Stacy is creating a platform based on her own lived experience, drawing from her travels, struggles and successes to know what works and what doesn’t. “My goal is to create something that I would use myself,” she says. “The Holman Prize will allow me to create something that I’ve always wished existed.”

“In increasing number, blind people understand that fully living in the world also mean fully participating in the richness of travel and recreation,” said Bryan Bashin, CEO of the Lighthouse in San Francisco.  “Right now blind people had no effective online way to benefit from each others’ experience when it comes to finding unusual accessible opportunities or preparing for accessibility challenges. Thanks to Stacy’s work soon we will be able to better prepare for our next adventures.”

Get to know the other two prizewinners, Conchita Hernández and Red Szell.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners

Support The Holman Prize

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2019 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.

 

Announcing the 2018 Holman Prizewinners

Photo trio, from left to right: Red Szell, Stacy Cervenka, and Conchita Hernández
Photo trio of the 2018 Holman Prizewinners, from left to right: Red Szell, Stacy Cervenka, and Conchita Hernández.

LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s three Holman Prize recipients will use their $25,000 awards to promote blind empowerment in Mexico, complete a dramatic oceanic triathlon, and develop the first online community for blind travel.

This fall, three exceptional blind individuals will set off around the world on adventures they never imagined possible as the 2018 winners of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition.

The three winners, Stacy Cervenka, Conchita Hernández and Red Szell, were announced Tuesday, July 10, after a rigorous judging process. Each winning project embodies its own sense of adventure and ambition – whether it takes the winners on a mentally and physically daunting journey or allows them to build and foster something positive in their community.

Created to change perceptions and reclaim the concept of “blind ambition”, the annual $25,000 Holman Prize awards presented by LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco will springboard future generations of blind entrepreneurs, adventurers and ambassadors.

Now in its second year, the Holman Prize is named after the 19th century explorer James Holman (known around the world as “the blind traveler”) the Holman Prize aims to launch worthy projects that will change the public perception of blindness for years to come.

“We are thrilled to be able to continue the Holman Prize for a second year,” said LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin. “These three new prizewinners represent a wide range of ambitions and life experience: from tackling social obstacles to to huge tests of physical and mental fortitude, they reflect the diversity and capability of blind people everywhere.”

Last year’s prizewinners, are each in the final stages of their 2017 Holman Prize projects. One of the three, Ahmet Ustunel, will finish his project on July 22 when he navigates his kayak independently across the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey without any human guidance. Read more about the blind kayaker [Red Bull]the blind baker [Virginian-Pilot], and the blind beekeeper [BBC].


Meet the 2018 Winners

Stacy Cervenka


Stacy Cervenka’s project focuses on creating a modern-day tool that James Holman might have put to good use: it’s an accessible travel forum called the Blind Travelers Network geared specifically towards blind users, and shockingly, nothing like it exists. Think Yelp, Trip Advisor, or Cruise Critic – but designed for the empowerment of a population who wants one thing, more than anything else: information. As a “founder” of sorts, Stacy is creating a website from her own lived experience, drawing from her own adventures to know what works and what doesn’t for blind travelers.

Read Stacy’s story.

Conchita Hernández

Conchita Hernández’s focus comes from her own experience of immigrating to America from Mexico as a 4-year-old, a decision her parents made in hopes of affording better opportunities for their two blind children. She will use the Holman Prize to provide staffing, lodging and scholarships for her unprecedented “Changing Lives”(Cambiando Vidas) Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico in July 2019. Geared toward families, the conference will offer workshops on white cane travel, braille and daily living. In a place where blind people are openly considered to be a burden, Cambiando Vidas strikes at a deeper insight: you can have the best education in the world, but if your family doesn’t believe in you, you are at a great disadvantage.

Read Conchita’s story.

Red Szell

Red Szell’s project is an unprecedented physical feat. He plans to attempt an  “Extreme Triathlon” comprised of a 200-foot abseil followed by a swim through open ocean, a 10-mile ride through a notably hazardous bog-land, and a climb up a 213-foot ocean spire called Am Buachaille off the north coast of Scotland. But more than just a triathlon, Red has a plan to document the whole endeavor, working closely with action-sports adventure videographer Keith Partridge to turn the project into more than just a feat of strength, but a message to other blind people not to give up their passions because of a change in vision.

Read Red’s story.


Stacy, Conchita and Red were part of a competitive pool of applicants from every continent (except Antarctica). Applicants are required to upload 90-second YouTube videos to pitch their idea for a dream project with a $25,000 budget, before submitting formal proposals. View all 14 Holman finalists’ video pitches. Applications for the 2019 Holman Prize will open in January 2019.

The three Holman Prizewinners will fly to San Francisco in September 2018 for a week-long orientation before starting their project year on October 1. Once they land in San Francisco, the winners will not only meet and learn from each other, but they will engage with other blind teachers, technologists and leaders from LightHouse’s extended network. The winners will also create comprehensive plans to document and share their experiences along the way through video, audio, writing and other storytelling mediums.

Read more about last year’s winners.

The Holman Prize is determined by a prestigious group of judges, almost all of whom are blind. The prize is a flagship  program of the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, who will salute each winner in an annual gala now set for November 29 in San Francisco.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.


About the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition

Holman Prize LogoIn 2017, San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind launched the Holman Prize to support the emerging adventurousness and can-do spirit of blind and low vision people worldwide. This endeavor celebrates people who want to shape their own future instead of having it laid out for them.

Created specifically for legally blind individuals with a penchant for exploration of all types, the Prize provides financial backing – up to $25,000 – for three individuals to explore the world and push their limits. Learn more at holmanprize.org.

About the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco

LightHouse LogoThe LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.

Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award will help support our new on-demand mapping software for the blind

Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Seal On Sunday we accepted a national award for a new technology that’s got the blindness community talking – and walking.

The National Federation of the Blind distributed six Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards for accomplishment and innovation in the field of blindness this week – including to outdoor program Ski for Light, Navajo braille creator Carol Green, and Danish startup Be My Eyes. Among them was LightHouse’s mapping project known as TMAP (Tactile Map Automated Production).

“Blind people profit from access to maps as much if not more than their sighted friends and family,” said LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin, himself blind and an avid map user.  “That’s the reason the LightHouse is commercializing accessible, automated map production.”

TMAP was developed by LightHouse in partnership with the Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute over the past year and is the culmination of many years of iterating and testing. The system allows a blind user to type in a point of interest, auto-generate a specially formatted map file, and print a tactile (raised line, braille) map on an embosser in one simple workflow.

“The internet gave sighted people the ability to generate a street map of anyplace they wanted,” said Dr. Joshua Miele, the blind scientist at the Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute who conceived TMAP. “I wanted blind people to have that, too.” Lighthouse’s T-Map project stems from original work conducted by Dr. Miele in 2011 and has been transformed into a consumer-facing service by the LightHouse’s Media and Accessible Design Lab.

Those interested in obtaining tactile maps for their locality can e-mail adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org and will soon be able to purchase the maps through an online store.

The Bolotin award was presented during the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the largest gathering of blind people held anywhere worldwide. LightHouse’s Senior Director of Programs Scott Blanks accepted the $5,000 honor.

“At the LightHouse, we are passionate about connectivity, community, and the power of autonomy through access to information,” says Blanks. “Tactile street maps embody these tenets, giving each blind person the agency to decide how they wish to interact with the world around them. When a person can touch, or look at, a top-down streetscape, so much can be unlocked: the orientation of an intersection, directionality of streets, and a better overall understanding of how a neighborhood fits together. With TMAP, we are just getting started.”

About the National Federation of the Blind’s Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award

The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards are presented annually by the National Federation of the Blind with support from the Santa Barbara Foundation to recognize outstanding individual and organizational achievements in the blindness field. For more information, go to nfb.org.

Ten things to know about tactile graphics

Here at the LightHouse, we’re determined to be at the forefront of tactile innovation, education and literacy. Thanks to the work of our Media and Accessible Design Lab (MAD Lab), we’re constantly generating new methods of conveying visual information in accessible and thoughtful ways, and working with organizations all over the world as consultants and educators. Just this month, we presented during San Francisco Design Week to a group of more than 40 designers from various industries about the value of tactile literacy. The follow tips are a great starter kit to understand the importance of accessible print design and way to approach its design:

Tactile graphics convey non-textual information to people who are blind or have low vision. These may include tactile representations of pictures, maps, graphs, diagrams and other images. A person who is blind can feel these raised lines and surfaces in order to obtain the same information that people who are sighted get through looking at pictures or other visual images.

  1. Developmentally, touch begins at birth whether sighted, visually impaired, or blind. Even sighted infants have low vision, so tactile stimuli is a huge part of early development.
  2. Tactile Graphics are vital to inclusion in education, employment, transit, and many other areas. As a highly visual society, we often convey useful and educational information visually. People who don’t have access to visual cues because of blindness get excluded from educational, practical and recreational information. It’s crucial to provide children accessible versions of visual information at the same time as their sighted peers.
  3. To interpret and understand a tactile graphic, the reader must have some experience with the object or concept being pictured. Background information and context are key. Take a map of a bus stop as an example — to interpret it you’d need to know enough about buses to know that they travel along streets. Building on an existing knowledge of a space or topic, a key identifies symbols or labels. Symbols and braille abbreviations are crucial when designing a tactile graphics, because they simplify information and make landmarks easy to identify and differentiate.
  4. Build on students’ own experiential knowledge and concrete understanding. Beginner tactile learners benefit from exposure to maps of a place they know well, like their bedroom, so they can make connections between their mental map and the physical space that the map represents. If you know it’s ten feet to the door from your bed, you’ll have a better sense of the relationship between the bed to door when observing a tactile representation.
  5. The key word of tactile graphics is simplify, simplify, simplify! When designing a tactile map, we always identify the most essential parts of the information being conveyed. We ask, “What are the essentials of moving through this space?” On a TMAP (the simplest of our maps) we don’t include buildings because they create clutter, and make the maps harder to decipher.
  6. There is more to making a graphic tactile than raising lines and adding braille labels. You can’t just raise the lines on a map as is — you have to leave white space, room for braille labels, create space, find the essentials, make sure the relationships between points of interest are preserved, and select the most important points to include. Again, simplify! Our maps may not be to scale, but we’re sure to preserve the necessary relationships between landmarks.
  7. Not everything that appears as a visual graphic needs to be a tactile graphic. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, and sometimes the words are worth the words. Ask yourself, “What is the most useful way of conveying information?” Sometimes a sentence or a 3D object representation would be a more effective means of communicating information. It depends on the audience, their skill-level and what you’re trying to convey. If an object is too small, too large, too dangerous, then make a tactile graphic — but if you’re trying to show someone what a pine cone is, then bring them a pine cone.
  8. Reading and understanding tactile graphics is not as easy as it may look; do everything you can to make it easier. Reading tactile graphics is not an inborn skill, it’s a skill that needs to practiced. You can run your hands across lines and get nothing out of it if you haven’t been taught how to interpret that information. Tactile literacy comes with education, simplification and builds on existing knowledge. It’s not easy — but with some research designers and educators can make it easier on blind and low vision students.
  9. With good tactile graphics, great results are possible. With a good tactile graphic, a blind person can lead a sighted person around a space!xfst
  10.  There are resources available! You don’t have to do this alone.

To learn more about tactile graphics, get in touch with the LightHouse Media and Accessible Design Laboratory (MAD Lab).

The LightHouse MAD Lab is comprised of a team of designers and consultants specializing in braille, tactile maps, accessible venues and alternative media of many formats. They’ll help you go beyond baseline ADA compliance to contextualize and innovate within the scope of your project.

Photos: This SF Pride we made it clear that LGBTQ+ includes the blind and disabled

It’s not every day that we get to march freely down the middle of Market Street with our canes wrapped in multi-colored ribbon. But on Sunday, we took to the streets for the 2018 SF Pride parade with a rainbow-clad pan-disability contingent of more than 150 people with disabilities and our allies. To our knowledge this is the largest-ever group of disability supporters to march in San Francisco Pride.

This year’s contingent was a true testament to the shared experience of having a disability, whatever it may be, and the subsequent empowerment that comes with being seen and celebrating that identity. We’d like to extend a warm thank you to the staff, volunteers, community supporters and our sponsors, Mental Health Association San Francisco and The Arc San Francisco, who marched with us and made this a truly celebratory day.

We’re still selling our beloved SF Pride T-shirts in the Adaptations Store! Support LightHouse and pick one up for next year’s parade for only $20.

Three volunteers in rainbow spandex hold the LightHouse banner while marching at the front of the contingent.
Three volunteers in rainbow spandex hold the LightHouse banner while marching at the front of the contingent.
A woman applies eyeshadow to a LightHouse contingent member with rainbow balloons in the background.
A woman applies eyeshadow to a fellow LightHouse contingent member with rainbow balloons in the background.
Two pride participants, one standing wearing the LightHouse shirt and wearing 'Ms. Wheelchair California' sash, prepare to march in the parade.
Two pride participants, one standing wearing the LightHouse shirt and the other wearing a ‘Ms. Wheelchair California’ sash, prepare to march in the parade.
A pride participant from Senior & Disability Action marches with our contingent, holding a 'Blind, Queer & Proud' sign.
A pride participant from Senior & Disability Action marches with our contingent, holding a ‘Blind, Queer & Proud’ sign.
Contingent members from The Arc San Francisco smile and pose before the parade begins.
Contingent members from The Arc San Francisco smile and pose before the parade begins.
A little girl wearing a tutu and fairy wings smiles and jumps into the air.
A little girl wearing a tutu and fairy wings smiles and jumps into the air.
A LightHouse student stands with his guide dog and a volunteer holding a sign that reads, "Shared history, shared struggles, shared liberation".
A LightHouse student stands with his guide dog and a volunteer holding a sign that reads, “Shared history, shared struggles, shared liberation”.
A contingent member from the Mental Health Association of San Francisco smiles and holds a sign that reads, "Disabled & Proud. I can have both."
A contingent member from the Mental Health Association of San Francisco smiles and holds a sign that reads, “Disabled & Proud. I can have both.”
A pride participant with a cane walk side by side in the midst of our large Pride contingent.
A pride participant with a cane walk side by side in the midst of our large Pride contingent.
A contingent member marches with a sign attached to their wheelchair that reads "Free our people."
A contingent member marches with a sign attached to their wheelchair that reads “Free our people.”
Two Pride participants in wheelchairs laugh while marching down market street with the contingent. One holds a sign that reads "Proud to be here."
Two Pride participants in wheelchairs laugh while marching down market street with the contingent. One holds a sign that reads “Proud to be here.”
LightHouse Pride organizer Laura Millar smiles while marching, with her white cane wrapped in rainbow ribbon.
LightHouse Pride organizer Laura Millar smiles while marching, with her white cane wrapped in rainbow ribbon.
Two rainbow-bedecked pride participants march side by side, one holding a sign that says "Proud of everything that we are."
Two rainbow-bedecked pride participants march side by side, one holding a sign that says “Proud of everything that we are.”
A french bulldog smiles while his owner, a LightHouse volunteer, holds him before the parade starts.
A french bulldog smiles while his owner, a LightHouse volunteer, holds him before the parade starts.

The gift that took 42 years to arrive

Sometimes the most impactful act is to set an intention: “I want to support the lives of blind people,” for instance. And even if a gift isn’t given immediately, it can have a powerful effect. Last week, we were touched and honored to find out about an gift that was dedicated to the blindness community more than four decades ago – only to find its way to our doorstep this year.

Jessie Strickland wanted to leave a lasting impact – and so she planned a gift. Upon her passing in 1976, her estate plan outlined support for two causes: the well-being of her daughter, Jessie Marsh, and their family’s local blindness organizations (one in Ohio and the other in California). Strickland’s estate was considerable and the trust sustained her daughter, Jessie Marsh, beyond her lifetime – with some funds remaining to meet a second purpose upon Marsh’s passing in 2016.

A few weeks ago we got a call from a representative at the Bank of the West. They informed us that the original blindness organizations named in the estate plan no longer operated, and in fact had been out of business for years. In these cases, the bank has a fiduciary responsibility to select a replacement organization that carries out the same mission.

The bank had called to notify us that we, along with the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Ohio, were the recipients of Ms. Strickland’s remaining estate. The funds, distributed evenly to the two organizations, amounted to a $412,513 gift for the LightHouse. This is an incredibly generous gift by every measure, and even more remarkable is the path it took to get to us.

This contribution, and others like it, will help the LightHouse and Enchanted Hills support programs that are otherwise hard to fund. Support for white cane travel, learning braille and other vital skills are scarce. The Strickland bequest will enable us to help people who are new to blindness, adapt to their changing vision, gain confidence to re-engage with the world and  meet a community of support. We did not know Ms. Strickland, but we thank her and her family with all our hearts and know that this bequest will live up to the original intention of so many years ago.

To learn more about leaving a legacy to the LightHouse or Enchanted Hills through your estate plans, please contact 415-694-7333 or jsachs@lighthouse-sf.org.

Who are our SF Pride sponsors and why do we march together?

Thanks to the support of community sponsors The Mental Health Association of San Francisco and The Arc San Francisco, we have organized a pan-disability contingent for San Francisco Pride 2018 ready to make a strong statement about intersecting identities in the LGBT+ community. 

Learn more about their reasons for marching with us below:


Meet the Mental Health Association of San Francisco

The Mental Health Association of San Francisco LogoQ: What is the mission of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco?

A: The mission of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco (MHASF) is to cultivate peer leadership, build community and advance social justice in mental health.

Q: Why is the Mental Health Association of San Francisco a proud sponsor of the LightHouse Disability Pride contingent? 

A: MHASF is a proud sponsor of the LightHouse Disability Pride contingent because we care deeply about the mental health of the LGBTQ+ communities we serve. Many of us are LGBTQ+ identified ourselves and have personal experience of mental health challenges due to stigma, isolation, and discrimination. We support one another and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our community partners to raise awareness about disability pride, rights, and resources.

Q: How does the work your organization does connect with the work we’re doing here at LightHouse? 

A: Just as LGBTQ+ communities are not a monolith but a coalition of community partners with common goals and a shared vision, MHASF is a part of the larger community of disability advocates, including LightHouse. While the focus of our work may differ, our communities sometimes overlap, and MHASF is committed to promoting equality and self-reliance for people with mental health challenges, providing professional development and skills training, and amplifying the voices of people with lived experience.

Q: What does Disability Pride mean to you? 

A: At MHASF, Disability Pride means bringing our whole selves to all we do and celebrating all of what makes us who we are. For many of us, our mental health conditions and histories have played an important role in making us the amazing, compassionate, resilient people we are today. We are proud of all we’ve accomplished, alone and together, and we want to share that pride with our community.

A: The first Pride was a riot. How can we keep this activist legacy in Pride and stay true to the spirit of the event? 

Q: Our goal at MHASF is to advocate when possible — and agitate when necessary! Pride is a celebration of everything LGBTQ+ communities have accomplished, but now more than ever, we recognize that we can’t afford to be complacent, especially when it comes to our rights and our mental health. MHASF is proud to stand with LightHouse and other members of the Disability Pride contingent to support each other and call out injustice wherever we find it.


Meet The Arc San Francisco

The Arc San Francisco Logo

Q: What is the mission of The Arc San Francisco?

A: Our mission is to transform the lives of adults with developmental disabilities by advancing lifelong learning, personal achievement and independence. Our full name is The Arc San Francisco. The “arc” in our name represents the arc of achievement. We believe that with the right support, over time, people with developmental disabilities can fulfill their highest potential, achieving personal goals and lifelong success — however it is personally defined. Our vision is to foster an inclusive world in which all people with developmental disabilities can thrive.

Q: Why is The Arc San Francisco a proud sponsor of the LightHouse Disability Pride contingent?

A: We are thrilled to be partnering with another organization that believes in the absolute equality of people with disabilities, and recognizes the intersectionality of people who have disabilities and are part of the LGBTQ community.

Q: How does the work your organization does connect to the work we’re doing here at LightHouse?

A: We have clients with developmental disabilities who are blind or have low vision. Both organizations recognize the full humanity of the people we serve which includes sexuality and sexual and gender identifications.

Q: What does Disability Pride mean to you?

A: Like LGBTQ Pride, we recognize that people with disabilities have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. People with disabilities are all born with unique gifts and talents to share, and have every right to fulfill dreams, achieve goals and participate fully in our communities.

Q: The first Pride was a riot. How can we keep this activist legacy in Pride and stay true to the spirit of the event?

A: It’s so important to recognize that The Stonewall Riots were a response by mostly drag queens, gender fluid people, and trans woman of color. They were what the police and US culture at the time thought were easy targets for bullying, harassment and abuse, and these revolutionaries had finally had enough. It’s a great story of how people who are ostracized, looked down on, shunned and seen as less than fully human can empower themselves, stand up, and demand justice and equality. By doing so, they not only liberate themselves, but all of us. People with disabilities experience so many of the same challenges that people who are LGBTQ face, and if you’re queer and disabled your challenges are even greater. By recognizing the true history of Pride we can learn from our achievements and empower everyone who is disenfranchised by our culture. We are not all free until everyone is free.

To sign up to march or learn more about our SF Pride Disability Contingent, visit lighthouse-sf.org/sf-pride-2018.